The Fitness Doctor: Improving Your Mental Health
By Dr. Fredrick Peters
Considering recent events, mental health is more important than ever.
Exercise and Mental Health
The physical benefits of exercise, improving physical condition and fighting disease, have long been established, and physicians always encourage staying physically active. Exercise is also considered vital for maintaining mental fitness, and it can reduce stress. Studies show that it is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate.
When stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact as well. Therefore, when your body feels better, so does your mind. Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins, chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers, and improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.
Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
Relationship of Exercise to Anxiety Disorders
Stress and anxiety are a normal part of life, but anxiety disorders, which affect forty million adults, are the most common psychiatric illnesses in the U.S. The benefits of exercise may well extend beyond stress relief to improving anxiety and related disorders.
Some studies show that exercise can work quickly to elevate depressed mood in many people. They demonstrate how physical activity can deliver several hours of relief, similar to taking an aspirin for a headache.
Science has also provided some evidence that physically active people have lower rates of anxiety and depression than sedentary people. Exercise may improve mental health by helping the brain cope better with stress. In one study, researchers found that those who got regular vigorous exercise were 25% less likely to develop depression or an anxiety disorder over the next five years.
Exercise as Part of Therapy
According to some studies, regular exercise works as well as medication for some people to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and the effects can be long lasting. One vigorous exercise session can help alleviate symptoms for hours, and a regular schedule may significantly reduce them over time.
The Fitness Doctor’s Prescription
The most recent guidelines for adults recommend at least 150 minutes (two hours and thirty minutes) to 300 minutes (five hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or seventy-five minutes (one hour and fifteen minutes) to 150 minutes (two hours and thirty minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.
Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond the equivalent of 300 minutes (five hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity a week. Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on two or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.
World’s Largest Study on CBD Products Finds Improvements in Pain, Anxiety, and Sleep
The largest real-world study, consisting of nearly 3,000 participants, has just produced some stunning results on the use of commercially available cannabidiol (CBD) products.
Known as the ACES trial (Advancing CBD Education and Science), participants experienced a 71% improvement in their well-being on average, while 63% experienced an improvement in anxiety and sleep quality, and 47% experienced improvements in pain levels. 61% of participants reported an effect within one to four hours of taking their product.
The group behind the trial is Radicle Science, a health-tech startup looking to revolutionize the way in which natural consumer products are studied and evaluated for efficacy. Radicle is charting a compelling course towards offering personalized predictive data on the health effects of cannabidiol products consumed by millions of Americans.
A 2019 Gallup poll found that an estimated 14%, or at least one in seven Americans that answered Gallup polls, report to use CBD; mostly for pain, even though a Consumer Brand Association study in July of 2021 found that consumer knowledge of CBD is around 3.3 out of 10.
Despite the massive and growing market size, there is still scant data on the effectiveness of over-the-counter cannabinoid products. A recent study on the use of a CBD-product for women also found very significant improvements in the reporting of anxiety, which was sustained over a 60-day period.
Participants took one of a selection of thirteen off-the-shelf or over-the-counter CBD products, while the control group received a placebo. Respected scientific indices standardized by the WHO and NIH were used to measure participants’ self-reported data, and the trial organizers didn’t know who got placebo and who got CBD.
Making Waves with Leaves
The study was funded collectively by the thirteen brands which were trialed. The products were tested by Radicle and a third party to see if they contained the ingredients reported, at the levels at which they were reported, and then the companies supplied enough doses to cover 3,000 people over the four-week period.
It’s generally considered that a reported rate of clinically significant effects greater than 60% represent some of humanity’s most successful medications. For example, acetaminophen, the base ingredient in many off-the-shelf pain killers, confers around a 52% reported effect for headaches, around 20% higher than placebo one trial found.
For three of the four measured effects to have been reported as improved by greater than 60% is a major success, even more impressive when one considers the nature of Radicle’s method—that they’re not excluding anyone, nor are they policing the dosing habits. By including the “noise” the results are purer, in a way.
Radicle plans to release the updated findings in early 2022, including conditions and results based on demographic, underlying conditions, or dose-dependencies, to see if there are habits or conditions that disrupt the benefit conferred by the CBD.
*Dr. Peters is the founder of “The Fitness Doctor” (www.thefitnessdoctors.com). He has a Ph.D. in Physiology from Kent State University and is a certified member of the American College of Sports Medicine. Dr. Peters was born and raised in the Cleveland area and is a graduate of St. Ignatius High School and John Carroll University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.